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Visa free countries for Indians: How Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Russia are luring Indian touri


Amid the prolonged wait for US or Schengen visas, the prospect of making it in time for the Christmas-New Year holidays might seem uncertain. However, alternative destinations such as Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Turkey, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka have emerged as favorable options, actively welcoming Indian travelers, according to an ET report. A recent McKinsey study suggests that the number of Indian globetrotters is on the rise.This trend is attributed to the country’s growing economic prosperity and a heightened inclination towards international travel. The report, titled “From India to the world: Unleashing the Potential of India’s Tourists,” projects that if India follows a trajectory similar to China’s in terms of outbound travel, Indian tourists could embark on 80 to 90 million trips annually by the year 2040.



Indian tourists abroad

Indian tourists abroad

Thailand Thailand, for instance, recently announced a notable development, stating that Indian travelers will be exempt from the visa requirement between November 10 and May 10. We aim to attract a greater number of travelers to Thailand, said the Tourism Authority of Thailand. They highlighted that in 2022, Thailand welcomed 965,994 Indian tourists, and from January 1 to October 31 this year, the number has surged to 1,302,483 Indian tourists.


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Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia, actively promoting itself as a global tourism hub, has welcomed one million Indian visitors up to September this year and has set a target of 2.4 million for 2024. Alhasan Aldabbagh, President of APAC markets at the Saudi Tourism Authority, mentioned that flight frequency and capacity have increased by 24% and 19%, respectively, this year compared to the previous year. Furthermore, to expedite the visa process for Indian visitors, eight Tasheer offices (visa centers) have been established in India. Notably, Indian passport holders with UK, US, and Schengen visas, used at least once, can now apply for a Saudi e-visa online. The Indian Premier League sponsorship is also being harnessed to raise awareness and attract Indian tourists. Australia In Australia, significant efforts have been made to simplify, expedite, and streamline the visa application process for Indian travelers, as highlighted by Nishikant Kashikar, the Country Manager for India and Gulf at Tourism Australia. Indian tourists’ total spending in Australia for the year ending June reached Rs 12,000 crore, marking a 24% increase compared to the same period in 2019. The digitization of the visa application process has led to faster processing times, particularly for well-traveled Indian citizens. The absence of biometrics and the elimination of physical assessments has further streamlined the process, he said.


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Turkey Turkey has cemented its status as a premier destination for weddings and holidays for Indian travelers, offering direct flights that enhance convenience. The Turkish Tourism Authorities reported welcoming 199,966 Indian tourists in the first nine months of this year and expressed optimism about surpassing previous records with a substantial number of visitors this year. Sri Lanka Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved a pilot project offering free visas to visitors from India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand until March 31, as revealed by foreign affairs minister Ali Sabry’s post on X. In 2023 until September, Sri Lanka hosted one million tourists, with Indians making up 20% of the arrivals, a notable accomplishment, according to Jude Marsalin, Sri Lanka Tourism’s Indian market officer. Marsalin credited this achievement to their participation in roadshows held in cities like Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Pune, Kolkata, and other travel events, which contributed to raising awareness. Malik J Fernando, the Managing Director of Resplendent Ceylon, a collection of boutique Relais & Chateaux resorts, reported a substantial increase in bookings from India over the past five years. Despite intermittent challenges posed by Covid and the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, there has been a remarkable 140% rise in revenue compared to the same period the previous year. Russia Starting August 1, Russia initiated the issuance of electronic visas (e-visas) to Indian passport holders. This move aims to expedite travel approvals for various purposes, including tourism, business trips, and guest visits.


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Attracting Indians India experienced a remarkable 140% surge in visa applications last year compared to 2021, according to Prabuddha Sen, the Chief Operating Officer for South Asia at VFS Global. He noted that due to COVID restrictions and subsequent geopolitical sensitivities in certain markets, many global destinations are keen to attract Indian travelers. Some countries, such as Indonesia and Azerbaijan, introduced tailored e-visa solutions, including for Indian nationals. A McKinsey study highlighted that in 2019, Kolkata was the sole Indian city with direct connectivity to Vietnam, while three other Indian cities had sporadic flights. However, this situation has changed. To distinguish themselves in the eyes of Indian travelers and gain popularity, Vietnam enhanced its direct connectivity from India by increasing flight frequency and introducing new routes, resulting in a record high number of Indian arrivals. Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head for Holidays, MICE, and Visa at Thomas Cook (India), remarked that Indians are traveling more than ever. The company witnessed a 200% surge in demand for the January-June period this year compared to the previous year. A variety of appealing destinations have emerged with the launch of direct flights to places like Vietnam, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. Kale also pointed out the increased connectivity on both short-haul and long-haul routes, such as Bhubaneshwar-Singapore, Bangkok-Kolkata, Kochi-Ho Chi Minh City, and IndiGo’s new Mumbai-Nairobi and Delhi-Tashkent flights. Daniel D’Souza, President and Country Head for Holidays at SOTC Travel, reported robust growth of 227% in outbound travel between January and June this year compared to the same period last year. This growth extends beyond India’s major cities to include tier two and three cities in regional India, driven by rising disposable incomes and the aspirational value of vacations.


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